If the recent May-like weather has you out on the roof deck, wondering if you’ll ever get around to growing plants this year, you can stop scratching your head about how to do it. There are several practical, low-commitment methods that other folks have gotten all figured out. You don’t need to have an acre of raised beds on a rooftop, like Brooklyn Grange Farm, to grow some of your own food this summer, and now’s a great time to start thinking about it. Whether you’re just growing decorative plants or want to eat as much as you can from your own plot, hydroponics and similar contained soil systems are a good fit for cramped, urban places. In fact, you don’t even need to have any outdoor space for one of these systems. And you won’t need to worry about soil quality or its possible contamination when using containers like these, which is good news if you live in Brooklyn. They’ll also fit your lifestyle better than having to water plants all the time, as these systems require very little watering thanks to their smart set-ups. Read more about each one to decide what works best for you.
1. Window Farms
Brooklyn-based founder Britta Riley came up with the concept for these vertical, hydroponic planters that hang inside windows after reading an article by Michael Pollan. Three years later, it’s become an online community for experienced or would-be window farmers, with instructions on how to put together your own window farm and a store to buy one pre-made. This sophisticated system needs a little electricity to keep its water pump running, which could cost a few more bucks in electricity per year; you’ll only need to change the water once a month, though, to keep the plants healthy much on their own.
2. Tower Garden
These portable, food-grade plastic towers are an attractive option for outdoor spaces like bleak patios and concrete backyards. You can rearrange them all you want, as the lightweight system relies on aeroponics, where the plants’ roots are suspended in air. This ridiculously clever system was developed by Tim Blank, a veteran public garden designer, and patented by NSA/Juice Plus. One tower can hold up to 44 separate plants, and some even come with built-in trellises (a huge plus if you’ve ever tried growing tomatoes on a windy roof). As gardening expert Jan Young says of the produce grown on Tower Garden in this video about the system, “You can tell its health by the look. But you can also tell by the taste.”
One of the most well-known, patented designs that would fall into the category of sub-irrigated planters (SIPs), Earth Boxes are also portable, lightweight, and contained soil systems promote healthy plants with relatively little work. Thanks to a reservoir at the bottom of each container, water wicks up through the roots by virtue of capillary action, allowing them to constantly “sip” water rather than getting a rainfall now and then and going dry. You can also make your own sub-irrigated planter, which is sometimes called a “self-watering container,” using recycled materials. This is a practical way that leads much room for innovation, as the horticulturalist Bob Hyland encourages at his website Inside Urban Green, and rooftop gardener Frieda Lim promotes through projects and lectures at her Slippery Slope Farm website.